26 November 2005

UDA begins discussions on its future

Belfast Telegraph

Police and NIO involved, says UPRG

By Chris Thornton
25 November 2005

UDA representatives have started the "full process of engagement" they wanted to determine the group's future, a senior loyalist political representative said today.

Newtownabbey councillor Tommy Kirkham said the Ulster Political Research Group has opened contacts with the NIO, senior police, ceasefire monitors and the Republic's Government on the UDA's behalf.

On Remembrance Sunday, Mr Kirkham read a statement from the UDA leadership saying the group has "a clear understanding on the future".

"We are open-minded and waiting on contact," the statement added.

"That contact has come," Mr Kirkham said. "At this minute in time, it's a full process of engagement. We're moving on all fronts."

The UPRG is scheduled to have separate meetings with Secretary of State Peter Hain and Political Development Minister David Hanson next month.

Mr Kirkham said the UPRG met Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland and other senior police officers last week and also "agreed a way forward" with the Independent Monitoring Commission.

"There is other progress," he said. "They have renewed contacts in southern Ireland as well." The UDA has also returned to discussions with General John de Chastelain's Decommissioning Commission.

Mr Kirkham said an internal consultation process conducted by the UDA had indicated it is possible to "come to some arrangement about the future of the UDA".

The Rev Mervyn Gibson, a member of the Loyalist Commission, a group that brokers contact between the main paramilitary groups, said he believes both the UVF and UDA are "facing in the right direction".

But he warned that the process of winding up those organisations would not be taken simply in response to the IRA ending their armed campaign.

"I think there could be significant momentum over the next 12 months," he said.

He said an internal discussion document circulated within the Loyalist Commission had identified a resolution of the parades dispute as a central issue.

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